Two Sisters’ Unique Initiative Puts Cape Breton Island on World Map

(L-R) Heather Coulombe, Sandee MacLean, and Kerry Walkins at the Farmer’s Daughter Country Market. (Courtesy of Heather Coulombe)

OTTAWA—It’s something like an “Anne of Green Gables” story in a 21st-century setting. Instead of “sending word” to Nova Scotia for a boy to help with farm chores as Marilla Cuthbert did in the beloved children’s classic, two Cape Breton sisters posted an advertisement on their Facebook page to attract employees for their family-owned business.

The Farmer’s Daughter, a country market in Whycocomagh, a rural community on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, sells a range of goods from food to giftware and outdoor supplies. It is a thriving business, but last fall it was seriously short of staff, and efforts to find employees locally proved fruitless due to the area’s dwindling population. Most young people have left for brighter prospects elsewhere.

Heather Coulombe and Sandee MacLean’s Facebook post had consequences far beyond their wildest dreams. It changed forever the lives of two families, gave a fresh lease of life to their little community (pop. 800), and opened up new business prospects for their island home. In turn, Cape Breton became the subject of international media headlines.

Describing the community as “a place where people live year-round and celebrate the beauty that surrounds us in music and stories,” the Facebook post went on to promise future employees a modest salary, two acres of free land from the 200 acres that their family owns, and a stress-free lifestyle. Applicants had to be prepared to stay on at the store for five years.

The advertisement went viral and, six months later, responses are continuing to pour in—150,000 at last count. Coloumbe and MacLean had obviously tapped into a deep-rooted yearning in the hearts of many to escape big-city life and opt for a more simple existence.

Suddenly, people from all over Canada and the world began to see Cape Breton in a new light—as a place to live permanently and invest in, and not merely a tourist destination to enjoy in summer and leave at the first sign of winter.

Journalists from big-city media outlets descended on the community, eager to interview the sisters and their new employees.

The Cape Breton Partnership, an organization that promotes business, was flooded with inquiries from people who wished to start or relocate their businesses to the island. In addition, the response to the Facebook post gave fresh impetus to the County Council of Inverness (the county where Whycocomagh is located) to move forward with plans to make land and affordable housing more accessible to residents.



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